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Issue Date: October 2013

Best of Cleveland 2013: Food


Get it with the fries, have it on the hot dog or just try it solo. But do yourself a favor and order the chili ($4) at Zack Bruell's Dynomite Burgers in the Theater District. Sure, your friends will rave about the patty creations inspired by Bruell's other restaurants, and we get it. (We're big fans of the Parallax.) As he's apt to do, Bruell is always pushing our culinary boundaries, even at a burger shack. So the menu's chili dog couldn't just be an ordinary wiener. "We wanted to do something that was stupid good," he says. The all-beef dog gets topped with smoked paprika mayo, pickled vegetables, cilantro and his special chili sauce to match. It starts with slab bacon (yes, bacon) and beef ground super fine. Then cilantro, cumin and cinnamon are used to lighten up the flavors. What results is sweet, smoky and delicious. "No one pays attention to the quality of the chili," says Bruell, "which is a shame." 1302 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216-298-4077,

$5 Lunch Deal

Joe Schlott started his pie business from his front porch, selling a single treat: apple pie. "That was it," he recalls. "Some days I think that wasn't a bad game plan." Ten years later, Gray House Pies now offers more than 100 varieties. And its $5 lunch special is the sweetest deal in town. Served Tuesday through Saturday, the steal includes two hand pies, each the size of a meaty fist and wrapped in a thin, carefully folded crust. Customers choose a quiche or pub pie — including savory options such as barbecue pork, mac and cheese, and Philly cheesesteak — and a fruit pie to make their meal. "What's really popular right now is stuff with booze in it," Schlott says, citing the Drunk Cherry, a mix of sweet and tart cherries with a healthy dash of bourbon. Don't worry, we won't tell your boss. 26075 Detroit Road, Westlake, 440-360-7870,

Tofu Tacos

Barrio has hardcore carnivores like us rethinking the way we enjoy Mexican food. After a vegetarian co-worker swore the build-your-own taco joint's tofu tacos ($3) were just as good as — if not better than — any of their other creations, we had to find out for ourselves. Owner Joe Kahn and his kitchen crew fry up firm bean curd until it's nice and crispy on the outside and then douse it with their sweet Thai chili sauce. "We have people who are meat eaters and they'll eat this because it has such great texture — crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside," says Kahn of the restaurant's surprisingly most popular item. And if you need a recommendation on how to build the best tofu taco, try this combination: pineapple salsa, red cabbage, onions and chipotle crema. "That's how I like to build my tofu taco," he says. "I love the sweetness with spicy." 806 Literary Road, Cleveland, 216-999-7714; 15527 Madison Ave., Lakewood, 216-226-7714,

Loaded Fries

Sometimes the best inventions come from a complete mistake. When bar manager Steve Salem lost control of his pulled pork sandwich, watching its contents spill over his french fries, little did he know that he was about to create one of The Rib Cage Bar & Grill's most popular menu items. Piling his side dishes on top of his messy concoction, Salem threw aside the bread and attacked it with a fork. "The chef came out of the kitchen a bit later and said, 'That's got to be the stupidest thing I've ever seen.' And I thought, Ding!" And so the Stupid Fries ($11) were born. Today, the giant mound of seasoned fries are topped with tasty bourbon baked beans, crunchy house-made coleslaw and either thinly shredded pulled pork or chopped pieces of brisket smothered in vinegar sauce, as well as a three-cheese sauce made up of American, smoked Gouda and Monterey Jack. 2214 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, 216-321-7427


Our new lunchtime obsession is too hot to handle. Sung's House bibimbap ($8), a traditional Korean rice bowl, comes to the table served in a hot stone bowl. While the ingredients are simple — fresh veggies such as spinach, cucumber slices, julienned carrots and bean sprouts with white rice and a choice of chicken, beef or tofu — a fried egg on top adds another level of flavor. We douse the whole thing in soy sauce and a house-made spicy chili paste that always has us asking for more. After some time, the rice on the bottom of the bowl begins to get crunchy — an unexpected treat. "It's healthier food," says Jiyoung Sung, whose husband, Juwon, is the PlayhouseSquare restaurant's sushi chef. "We just try to make it good and keep it simple. It's a great way to have your veggies." 1507 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216-696-7655,

Mobile Pizzeria

Scott Mackay's mobile pizzeria drives home the concept of fast food. He can churn out made-to-order pies using local ingredients in the time it takes to post a picture to Instagram, thanks to the wood-fired oven he tows around with his Ford F-150. "The pizzas cook in two minutes because we use an 800-degree oven," says Mackay, owner of Scott's Fire and Ice Catering. He can simultaneously bake up to six pies — with toppings ranging from red grape and goat cheese to pear and Gorgonzola. Mackay introduced his portable business two years ago at a Chagrin Valley horse show. Since then, he's been in fifth gear, hauling the pizzeria trailer six days a week during the summer to company parking lots and food-centric events such as Vintage Ohio. "The oven pretty much never fully cools down in the summer," he says. Even Travel Channel's Adam Richman was impressed when he sampled a classic recipe in May during filming at the Kentucky Derby's Chow Wagon festival. "Adam said my margherita pizza was as good as any he's had in Brooklyn," Mackay says. 130 W. Streetsboro St., Hudson, 330-329-8065,

Chocolate Landmarks

If you ever wanted to get a taste for classic Cleveland architecture, you should take a bite out of the Chocolate Terminal Towers ($18) at Sweet Moses Soda Fountain & Treat Shop. Standing at 3 1/2 inches tall and made from solid dark, white or milk Belgian chocolate, each tower is cleverly crafted to match the original 52-floor Cleveland landmark. "Unlike a candy bar that might just have a relief on it, this actually stands up," says owner, Jeff Moreau, who spent a year designing the cast with a molding company before debuting the 3-D edible building over the summer. "We used a combination of photographs, historical images and souvenirs that were done to scale to help us determine some of the dimensions." Each tower is molded and filled in the store, and although you could display it on a shelf with other Cleveland memorabilia, it's difficult not to unleash your inner King Kong and go to town on this delicate dessert. 6800 Detroit Ave., Cleveland, 216-651-2202,

Open-faced Burger

Get your dinner and dessert in one bite thanks to Bar 145. While the gastropub has 12 creative burgers on the menu at its Kent and Toledo locations, it's the apple pie burger ($11) that tickles our taste buds. Prepared as an open-faced sandwich, buttered brioche cradles an all-natural beef patty cooked to medium rare at 145 degrees (hence the restaurant's name). It's topped with cream cheese and apple slices that have been stewed in a rum spice blend and then cooked in butter and cinnamon for an extra kick. "We have one rule in my kitchen — whether it be an appetizer or a burger — nobody throws out an idea," says Bar 145 executive chef Robby Lucas of coming up with inventive dishes. "We try to refine it until we make it work." 100 E. Erie St., Suite 130, Kent, 330-968-6201; 5305 Monroe St., Toledo, 419-593-0073,

Restaurant Update

In the early '60s, Frank Sterle designed his restaurant to look like his father's hunting lodge in the Slovenian Alps. Five decades later, new owner Rick Semersky took on a challenge: how to keep Sterle's Country House thriving. His answer is a smart mix of modernization and even deeper nostalgia. Semersky expanded the bar and beer list but slimmed down the menu, dropping German and Italian dishes to focus on Eastern European classics such as goulash, paprikash and Slovenian sausage. "We're trying to awaken not only our older clients, but potential newer clients, to their heritage or new cultural perspectives," says general manager James Gibson. A 100-plus-seat bier garden now stretches out next to the main building. Seven beers, made by Milwaukee's Sprecher Brewery, carry house names, including Kindsvater lager, after the operator of a beer garden in the Slavic neighborhood before Prohibition. "We're definitely trying to preserve the heritage of what Sterle's is," says Gibson. 1401 E. 55th St., Cleveland, 216-881-4181,

21 and Over Dessert

Move over, Jello shots. There's a new kid in town. Auts Tipse Treats' mini-cupcake shots — yes, there's an actual shot of alcohol inside — are all the rage at local bachelorette parties, golf outings and weddings. Owner Autumn Skoczen's patent-pending process removes some of the liquid from the batter so when the cakes come out of the oven the liquor isn't soaked up. "The best way to serve these are to keep them refrigerated just like a real shot or cocktail," she says. Choose from more than 60 flavors such as Kentucky Derby pie (filled with bourbon), salted caramel toddy (filled with caramel vodka) and Loopy (filled with tropical-fruit-flavored Three Olives vodka). And the best way to take your shot? "This is the never-ending question," says Skoczen. "We suggest you eat it bottoms up. Turn the cupcake upside down, take off the paper and then eat it backward." 440-262-5531,

Fried Pickles

After sampling fried pickles in Nashville, Beal's Pickles n Pints co-owner Brian Beal thought he could make them better. "The problem was they all got soggy," he explains. His solution was to cut the pickles in fourths, coat the hunks in a thin coating of breading and deep-fry them, hence combating the tricky pickle-to-breading ratio. "The chunks give you a little bit more stability, a little more crunch." The eatery makes more than 100 pounds of the garlic dill and famous hot flavors each week. And when it comes to the list of ingredients, Beal and his siblings and co-owners, Chuck Beal and Laurin Gelin, think less is more. Vinegar, salt, garlic and dill are the base recipe for all pickles. To increase the heat for the notoriously hot pickles, Beal adds some habaneros and Moruga scorpion pepper concentrate. "We just felt the simpler we made it, the better it was," he says. 36200 Euclid Ave., Willoughby, 440-946-7468,

Toaster Pastries

Like most of us, chef and owner Douglas Katz snacked on Pop-Tarts during his childhood. He eventually graduated to heartier and healthier options, but those tasty toaster pastries stayed on his mind. So when he opened the Katz Club Diner earlier this year, he reinvented the nostalgic treat into a pocket pie ($3) using scratch ingredients that permit guilt-free indulgence. "The irony of the pastry is that it's so common, but ours are handmade using local ingredients," Katz says. "The pastry represents that authenticity of the 1940s, before the 1950s ushered in fake food." Locally sourced eggs and butter, and jam fillings using Rittman Orchards' seasonal berries (think cherry, strawberry and blueberry) are staples of the pocket pies, which are baked daily. The restaurant embellishes the pastry with a powdered sugar glaze and chocolate ganache piping that spells out "Katz" between a diagonally positioned heart and club. "It's designed to look like a Katz Club playing card," he says. 1975 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, 216-932-3333,

Twist on a Gyro

There's a method to eating the gnocchi ($18) at Cork & Cleaver Social Kitchen. To fully savor the whimsical play on a gyro, make sure your fork skewers each of the entree's components. "We wanted to do a lamb-based dish, but we wanted to create an approachable dish that doesn't punch you in the face," says Adam Bostwick, chef and co-owner. "I like gyros, so I added some playfulness to the dish, and that's the route we went." The creative process begins with a rub of fresh oregano, garlic, salt and pepper to lamb legs, which is then seared and braised for four hours. The lamb meat is paired with the soft gnocchi, a tzatziki sauce made of Greek yogurt laced with fresh-squeezed lemon and dill, and a cucumber and radish slaw picked from the restaurant's nearby 3-acre farm. "We top it off with a little microbasil or oregano for that flavor burst," Bostwick says. "This dish is something people have had before, but done in a way they haven't experienced before." 8130 Broadview Road, Broadview Heights, 440-627-6449,

Edible Candles

The chefs at The Greenhouse Tavern are known for the unexpected, so if you're wondering how the visionaries will outdo their pork skin noodles or roasted pig head, we've got the answer for you: edible, tea-light-shaped candles. Greenhouse chef and owner Jonathon Sawyer and chef and partner Brian Goodman created the candles using fat left over from the cows they butcher in-house. "Nothing goes to waste here," Goodman says. Once it burns down, the candle is like a fine olive oil or melted butter. Soak it up with a grilled baguette and season it with fresh thyme, lemon, salt and pepper served on the side. "We would never dream of doing anything until we mastered it," says Goodman. Right now, the candles are a verbal menu item, but Goodman says that in time, the edible candle will be just one part of a several-course dining experience. "How awesome would it be if the whole dining room was filled with beef candles?" he asks. We don't know — but we can't wait to find out. 2038 E. Fourth St., Cleveland, 216-443-0511,

Croissant-Doughnut Hybrid

It may be half doughnut and half croissant — but it's 100 percent delicious. After a customer asked LaBella Cupcakes owner Laura Williams if she knew how to make Cronuts, the much-talked-about pastry that caused a craze in New York City earlier this year, Williams did some research and started shaping her own version, called Crescendoughs ($24 for half a dozen). The yeasted dough, which takes three days to make, requires Williams to roll out and turn the dough about seven times to create those buttery, flaky layers. "To fry it, you're basically shaping it like a doughnut," she says. Rotating flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, maple, salted caramel and lemon raspberry are available for delivery through the company's website. When you get your order of these decadent treats, be sure to eat them up that day. "You can't refrigerate them," Williams says. "The croissant dough picks up moisture and gets soggy." With how yummy these are, we're sure that won't be a problem. 216-246-7025,

Portable Cheesecake

Take a little piece of heaven with you wherever you go with Tremont Scoops' chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick. When new owners took over the popular ice cream parlor in April, they wanted some chocolate-covered desserts to add to the menu. Chocolate-covered pretzels are too common, co-owner Nicole Schiro explains, while cookies are already used in the shop's ice cream sandwiches. But when they thought of dipping cheesecake in chocolate, they struck frozen gold. "It's been a hit," Schiro says. "Everyone has been so excited about it because it's so unique and so decadent." Each treat is priced at $5 — which is a steal, because the slices are huge. "They're portable, and they're definitely shareable," Schiro says. 2362 Professor Ave., Cleveland, 216-781-0352,

Kitchen Space

You don't have to be a contestant on Top Chef to cook like one — or at least cook in a tricked-out space fit for the popular Bravo show. At the Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen, the combination business incubator and licensed commercial kitchen is filled with industrial-size ovens, walk-in coolers, stand mixers and a jar filler. Since doors opened in May, caterers, a mustard-maker, cookie bakers, picklers and all other sorts of fledging entrepreneurs with an edible angle have been renting it to take their small or home-based food startups to the next level. For folks with just the glimmer of a tasty concept, there are classes that help turn ideas into action plans. "People get more than kitchen space and share more than a work area," says founder and director Carolyn Priemer. "We encourage cross-pollination, networking, peer support and provide lots of professional guidance." 2800 Euclid Ave., Suite 150, Cleveland, 216-314-7196,

Deep-fried Hot Dog

We're not always looking to be healthy when scouring Cleveland's vast food scene. Every now and then, an inexplicable craving emerges for a meal with little nutritional value, but one that can pack a punch in the taste department. Give in to your hankering with ABC the Tavern's Atomic Dog ($5.25). Named after George Clinton's 1983 No. 1 hit, this quarter-pound, bacon-wrapped, jalapeno-stuffed, deep-fried hot dog is just as funky as the leader of Parliament and Funkadelic. Paired with Sriracha aioli on top, each bite doles out a nice burst of heat. "It's not for the meek," says ABC the Tavern's co-owner Randy Kelly. "But it's certainly not going to blow your ears off." Over the past five years, daring customers have continually challenged this behemoth, making it one of the restaurant's top-selling menu items. "It's the only hot dog on the menu, so we had to make it a great one," says Kelly. "We wanted it to stand out." 1872 W. 25th St., Cleveland, 216-861-3857; 11434 Uptown Ave., Cleveland, 216-721-1511,

Fried Green Tomatoes

You don't have to travel to the South to get an authentic taste of its famous cuisine. Just head downtown to Stonetown for its crispy-on-the-outside and tender-on-the-inside fried green tomatoes. The lunch and dinner appetizer ($6.95) is made from a recipe that executive chef Tony Fortner has been using throughout his more-than-30-year culinary career in Cleveland. Sliced local green tomatoes are marinated in a dry rub of herbs, sugar and spice. Then they are soaked in cream, rolled in corn flour and deep-fried. "I got that recipe from my mother," says Cleveland-born Fortner. "My mother drew inspiration from my grandma, who is from the South." A spicy remoulade dipping sauce contrasts with the tart and sweet flavor of the tomatoes and sends them over the top. "With the texture of the tomato and the remoulade, it's an explosion of flavors in your mouth," Fortner says. 627 Prospect Ave., Cleveland, 216-862-5722,

Edamame Hummus

You recycle, turn off lights and shorten your showers, so now head to Ken Stewart's East Bank for another green option — its delicious edamame hummus ($10). "We like to take a classic and do a modern twist on it," says general manager Lindsey Stewart. It elevates the traditional dip by mixing soy beans, toasted sesame seeds, fresh ginger and a pinch of garlic, and serving it alongside crisp wonton chips and sliced vegetables, including heirloom zucchini and squash. "We gave it an Asian flavor," Stewart explains. "It's a unique combination and has a beautiful green color. You don't know what to expect before you taste it — but it's savory and light and so flavorful." 1121 W. 10th St., Cleveland, 216-696-8400,

Small-batch Ice Cream

Avocado, popcorn, mango lime and chili, fried chicken and waffles — those are just a few of the inventive ice cream flavors dreamed up by Jesse Mason and Helen Qin, the duo behind Mason's Creamery. "We enjoy pushing the boundaries of what people think should go in ice cream," says Qin. "But it's got to taste good too!" The couple started selling their handcrafted small-batch ice cream last spring and the unique selections have been a hit ever since. Mason spends eight to 12 hours every Monday making the sweet stuff, while inspiration comes from the pair's enthusiasm for all kinds of food and their customers' suggestions (black sesame, anyone?). Without a storefront to call home, Mason's Creamery posts its schedule of local farmers markets and other special events on Twitter and Facebook. Flavors change weekly, so grab your spoon and get tasting.

Meal Planner

You have to eat. Why not make it the best week ever with these daily specials? 



$5 All-night Happy Hour: All small plates, half pitchers of beer and select martinis, cocktails, wines and sakes

13120 Shaker Square, Cleveland, 216-767-1111,




2 for $40 Tuesdays: One starter, two entrees and a bottle of wine for $40

668 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216-771-4000,



Deagan's Kitchen & Bar 

Vegetarian/Vegan Night: Four to five vegetarian and/or vegan specials

14810 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-767-5775,



Touch Supper Club

F#@CK YO Dolla Tacos: One gourmet taco for $3 or two for $5

2710 Lorain Ave., Cleveland, 216-631-5200,



The Tavern of Solon 

Prime Rib Special: 14-ounce smoked prime rib, potato, veggie and roll for $20

33587 Aurora Road, Solon, 440-248-6112,



Bonbon Pastry & Cafe

Breakfast Happy Hour: Any breakfast item for $5 Tuesday-Saturday from 3 to 8 p.m.

2549 Lorain Ave., Cleveland, 216-458-9225,



Creekside Restaurant & Bar

Steak & Spud Sundays: Select sirloin or strip steak and baked potato for $12.95

8803 Brecksville Road, Brecksville, 440-546-0555,

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